Logo Kissinger Sommer

Das Festival 2022

Vienna. Budapest. Prague. Bad Kissingen

Cultural-historical cross-connections between Bad Kissingen and Austria, Bohemia and Hungary, i.e. the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and its successor states, form the main theme of the Kissingen Summer 2022. This already promises some excitement because Bad Kissingen was a state spa of the Wittelsbach dynasty in Munich, who strongly promoted its development. Between them and the Habsburgs, who ruled in Vienna, there was bitter antagonism for over 700 years, which did not even stop at war. Could relationships develop there?

A Freedom Hero

Of course, there have always been, especially in the cultural sphere. It is a curiosity that the Hungarian prince, of all people, who comes to mind first and foremost for the people of Kissingen had nothing whatsoever to do with their town: the "freedom hero" Ferenc Prince Rákóczy, who dared to revolt against the Habsburgs. He never visited Kissingen. But he was a popular topic of conversation at the time when the spring named after him was discovered. The water was as wildly gushing as one imagined a freedom hero to be, and thus had his name. You can still meet him today: he is sitting, unmissable, on a chair in front of the Wandelhalle – as a sculpture by the Hungarian sculptor and painter Imre Várga.

His name also brings a Bohemian into the picture: Balthasar Neumann, one of the most important architects of the Baroque and Rococo periods, was born in Eger in 1687. The Würzburg Residence is his most famous work, but he also left his mark on Bad Kissingen: The plans for the royal spa house (demolished around 1820) and the nave of the Marienkapelle were made by him. Above all, however, he rediscovered the buried "Scharfen Brunnen" (Sharp Well) in 1738 during a relocation of the Saale in the spa garden area, which is now called the "Rákóczy Spring".

Bohemian Musicians

For Bad Kissingen, relations in the imperial and royal sphere play an important role, because music for the spa, an essential part of the spa's appeal, came from Bohemia. Of course, there was already music in Kissingen before that. When the sovereign, Prince-Bishop Johann Philipp von Schönborn, came to visit, he had a few musicians in his entourage. But there was no regular music business until Johann Kliegl came to town for a whole season in 1836 with 15 Bohemian musicians. The response from the guests was so good – despite some off-key tunes – that the bath tenants, the Bolzano brothers, hired the troupe for the next few years as well. However, the musicians had to raise their own money. A dilemma for Johann Kliegl, because at the beginning of the season he never knew who of his musicians would come back. The situation only improved when in 1855 the spa commissariat engaged the Mainz Kapellmeister Wilhelm Heinefetter, who in turn sought musicians from Bohemia, but also from the Würzburg theatre and the Meiningen Hofkapelle, whom he could now also pay. The way to the future was clear.

It was on this path that an orchestra first appeared in the town in 1906, which had also made several guest appearances at the Kissinger Sommer: founded in 1900 as the "Wiener Concertverein", it later called itself the "Wiener Symphoniker". The summer commitment to Bad Kissingen was not an act of whim and fancy, but economic necessity. For in the summer the musicians were not only contractless, but also had no income. The Viennese were virtually predestined for Kissingen; for according to their motto "Music for all, education for all, culture for all", they also had experience with popular concerts without neglecting the serious. Conductors of the Kissingen sessions were Martin Spörr, Josef Roubicek and Ernst Netsch. Every Wednesday there were symphony concerts focusing on Viennese composers, above all Brahms, Bruckner and Mahler. In addition, there were guest conductors such as Ferdinand Löwe, Felix Mottl or Max von Schillings and soloists such as Ferruccio Busoni, Bronisław Huberman or Ernst von Dohnányi. With one year's interruption, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra came to Bad Kissingen until 1918.

Another small observation stands out, which can only be a coincidence: Alexander Steinbeis begins as the new artistic director with a look at the music of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When the Kissinger Sommer celebrated its premiere in 1986 as a festival intended to build bridges across the Iron Curtain, the first guest and focus country was Hungary.

»High Spa« in Kissingen

However, the best-known relationship between Bad Kissingen and the Austro-Hungarian Empire is not of a musical nature. It is the spa visits of the Countess of Hohenembs, who appeared in Kissingen for the first time in 1862 with a small entourage – a woman who did not even exist. Of course, the people of Kissingen knew who she really was: Empress Elisabeth of Austria. She travelled incognito under a pseudonym because she did not want to be recognised – but she also kept largely out of the public eye. The reason was a very practical one: if she had travelled as Empress Elisabeth, she would have set an enormous protocol machinery in motion. She wanted to spare herself that, but also the people of Kissing. A total of five further stays followed until 1898. The health resort – by now Bad Kissingen – obviously appealed to her.

Her stay in 1884 made headlines, for she was travelling in the company of the Count of Hohenembs – her husband, of course, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria. They met here with Count and Countess Borodinsky from St. Petersburg – alias Tsar Alexander and Tsarina Maria Alexandrova. The Bavarian King Ludwig came from Munich for one night to welcome the distinguished guests. Today, such a gathering would be called a "G2 summit". Back then it was called a "Hohe Kur" (High spa). Franz Joseph was also there again in the spring of 1898 to collect his wife. A quarter of a year later she was murdered in Geneva. But that is another story.